Thursday, 11 October 2012

Slither (2006)

Dir. James Gunn
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Tania Saulnier 

I remember the advertising campaign for Slither fondly. It was 2006 and posters started to appear on the sides of buses. These posters depicted a young woman in a bath, while a swarm of menacing slugs closed in. I even discussed going to the cinema with friends to see the film. The posters promised campy B-movie-ish fun. How campy? Well, the DVD for Slither started with a trailer for Snakes on a Plane (which we did go and see at the cinema). 

Sadly Slither did not deliver on this promise. Snakes on a Plane had a wholly ridiculous premise and a stock cast of easily identifiable characters, superbly led by Samuel L. Jackson. It was kitsch and tongue-in-cheek and it knew it. Slither, however, is no more ridiculous than most horror movies (save for one solitary attack be a zombie deer). There are only three characters with any amount of personality in the film. It does not have any star names and, while there is a certain amount of dead-panning (tracking down the killer will, apparently, be like “finding a needle in a fuckstack”), there are few instances of real humour. There are two shocks in the whole film (shocks of the ‘sudden movement and loud orchestral chord’ school).

If the film were to have a subtitle it would be ‘Zombies Have Feelings Too’. Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) is infected by an alien slug thing. He immediately starts to hunger for meat and plot to infect first his small South Carolina hometown, and then the world. Eventually he unleashes a plague of slugs which infect people by leaping down their throats. This creates an army of zombies linked in a sort of hive-mind to Grant. But he still retains control of his former memories and feelings. His love for his young wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) proves to be his real motivation even as his body transforms. 

I call Grant and his followers ‘zombies’. That is essentially what they are. It might perhaps be truer to call them ‘people reanimated by alien parasites’ but frankly if they look like zombies, shamble like zombies and hunger for meat like zombies, they’re zombies. And I’ve seen zombies before. Slither came out in 2006. Apocalyptic zombie horror 28 Days Later was released in 2002. Zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead came out in 2004. I’ve seen fast zombies, strong zombies, comedy zombies. Slither did not really add anything new.  

There were B-movie elements lurking under the surface. I can’t help but feel that if writer / director James Gunn had surrendered to camp a more entertaining movie could have resulted. There were grumbling bloated wombs, slugs leaping down peoples’ throats, a wholly unfit-for-office mayor, the aforementioned zombie deer. But I felt that there were a couple of ‘messages’ shoehorned in. At first I wasn’t sure if the film was somehow trying to make a point about rape. We have a muscular man trying to infect (at first) pretty young woman by penetrating them with his two penis-like stingers. We have young girls struggling while slugs thrust themselves into mouths. We have a woman unawares in the bath while a slug swims towards her through the bubbles – shades of A Nightmare on Elm Street I thought. The film certainly does try to make some point equating the worm-thing’s hunting of humans to the humans’ hunting of deer. The town of Wheelsy is a hunting town. When Grant first infects Brenda (Brenda James) the scenes of his attack are intercut with those of the mayor (Gregg Henry) declaring deer hunting season open. I thought that this was some rather heavy-handed moralising for what I was hoping would be a camp horror romp. 

Slither isn’t completely unwatchable. It might be a somewhat familiar subject, but it maintains the ‘ick’ factor through some decent special effects. There needed, in my opinion, to be more grisly, faintly ridiculous deaths however. Elizabeth Banks does okay as the heart of the movie, and Michael Rooker is to be commended for projecting his hurt and love despite the layers of slug-y, squid-y prosthetics he gets buried under. I’ve seen worse zombie films. Unfortunately I’ve also seen a lot more that are better. 
Sadly her galpals were right: her husband was a slimeball
What have I learnt about South Carolina?
South Carolina must be huntin’-shootin’-fishin’ country. In Doc Hollywood we saw deer-hunters and dynamite fishers. In Slither we again have the same characters. The local police department have confiscated a grenade from a trout fisherman, and the economy of the town of Wheelsy seems to be largely based upon deer hunting. They have a festival (‘Deer Cheer’) to celebrate the start of the hunting season, and later on the sheriff is concerned that livestock killings and a missing woman will deter hunters. 

The surrounding terrain is one of wooded hills. The town seems quite isolated, with its nearest neighbour being ten miles down the road. So we are left with an impression of wild woodland and strung-out isolated settlements. The police department have an armoury of high calibre weaponry (though I am not sure how many of these guns actually belong to the police department and how many have been confiscated from hunters).

Can we go there?
The film is set in Wheelsy, South Carolina. Wheelsy, suffice to say, does not exist. And the film was not even shot in South Carolina. Filming took place in British Columbia in Canada. The town of Cloverdale was used for Wheelsy. This small town is principally famous as the setting of the young Clark Kent’s hometown in the series Smallville.

Overall Rating: 2/5

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